To the Venerable Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America
Once again, we enter the season of Great Lent, the “school of repentance,” during which we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the glorious resurrection of the New Paschal Lamb Who voluntarily takes upon Himself the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29).
Great Lent is a time of fasting, of freeing ourselves from those things that, while well within our control, we have allowed to control us. It is a time of almsgiving, of sharing our time and treasures and very lives with “the least of the brethren” as we discern the Lord’s presence in all with whom we come into contact. And, coupled with our fasting and almsgiving, it is a time to intensify our prayer life, to quietly reflect on the many blessings Our Lord has so freely and lovingly granted to all who would follow Him to the cross, the tomb, and ultimately, the resurrection. Indeed, the “lenten spring” brings with it the joyous promise of new life - the new life of the Kingdom of God itself.
Beyond fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, Great Lent challenges us to overcome the tendency to live a superficial Christian life, filled with correct words and deeds but devoid of the transfiguring and saving Spirit. We recall the words of the Lord: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). In overcoming a purely formal and superficial approach to our faith, we move closer to the ultimate aim of our lives as Orthodox Christians: loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is precisely in this that we find the “dynamic tension” inherent in the Gospel—the tension between the glamour of this world and the glory of the world to come. Saint Paul reminds us that, while we are in the world, we are not of the world. Yet it is precisely in the world that we are challenged to allow the transforming love of the risen Lord to fill us, to change us, and to prompt us to continue the work of salvation until Our Lord returns in glory.
As we enter the school of repentance, let us flee from the distractions and tensions of this world and focus our hearts and minds on the empty tomb at which we, like the Myrrhbearing Women, delight in the words of life: “He is not here; He is risen!” Let us shun that purely superficial and formal observance of Great Lent that can become an obstacle to true repentance and interior change. And, strengthened and renewed by fasting and almsgiving, prayer and repentance, let us engage the world by proclaiming the “life of the world to come” in a world which so desperately struggles to find and regain hope and direction.
Asking your continued prayers and forgiveness, I pray that the blessings inherent in the lenten spring will in due time fill you with the joy of the risen Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honor and worship now and forever.
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada